Apr 19, 2016

#GlobeMed2030: What does compassion have to do with it?

This #GlobeMed2030 blog is a guest post written by Esperance Mutoniwase, a GlobeMed student at the University of Chicago. Inspired by a conversation on the compassion and humanity needed to change the world, Esperance shares her thoughts on Rwanda’s, her home country, progress in providing health care and access through the lens of inclusivity, compassion, and teamwork. 

Photo: GlobeMed at Middlebury’s partner organization, Gardens for Health, in Kigali, Rwanda

I often say that Rwanda is one of the most beautiful and reviving places on earth, but my judgment could be biased because it’s the same place where I spent the most of life and where my most cherished dreams are grounded. I was born soon after the 1994 Rwandan genocide so I witnessed my country’s total rebirth as I was growing up. Rwanda has made incredible progress since 1994; it currently has one of the highest school enrollment rates in Africa, has been recently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, and has made remarkable progress in the health care sector.

Rwanda has moved from being a place that didn’t have any standing health facility to being a place where everyone has access to medical insurance through “Mutuelle de Sante” (a government health insurance that everyone can have access to, regardless of their financial status). Almost all Rwandans have access to basic health care services in the country. The Rwandan Ministry of Health has relentlessly worked on creating awareness on health-related issues such as the importance of balanced diets as well as how to prevent and deal with diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, to name a few. However, giving someone free, or affordable access to malaria treatment for example is great, but providing decent healthcare services for more complex diseases is equally important. Therefore, one would have to be very unreasonable to undermine the progress that my country has made over the past 20 years, but it would also be unreasonable to say that Rwanda has finally made it, and that it is exactly where it needs to be, for we still have a long way to go and more problems to solve, as a country.

Therefore, the extra effort needed to move from satisfying people’s basic needs to satisfying the complex ones embodies compassion, love and mercy towards each other, as well as acknowledging the humanity we all share.

Rwanda has started to work on more complex health care issues like cancer treatment, but it can be noted that the Rwandan health care sector would not have taken this path if policy makers had concluded the lack of access to specialized health care services for people with a low income is too expensive to be addressed. Moreover, the endeavor of covering every Rwandan’s basic health care needs would not have been undertaken in the first place if the country’s leaders were not convinced that every Rwandan deserves care. Therefore, the extra effort needed to move from satisfying people’s basic needs to satisfying the complex ones embodies compassion, love and mercy towards each other, as well as acknowledging the humanity we all share.

It might be tempting to think that the incredible way in which Rwanda’s health care sector has evolved over the past twenty years requires so much effort that it is very hard for the same methods to be replicated in other places. However, the key to the progress that my country has made is simple: compassion and team work — the idea that all Rwandans should be able to access decent services, and that all individuals are equally valuable. This idea is what led the Rwandan government to invest a lot of effort in making basic health care services to everyone in different parts of Rwanda, and it is the same idea that is driving the current national efforts of making special health care services more accessible to the majority of the Rwandan population.

The progress that Rwanda has made is not a result a single individual’s efforts; rather it is a result of the Rwandan population’s efforts, plus the help of foreign partners. This shows that as long as a the leaders of a certain group are convinced by the idea that equity should be the basis of all their endeavors, then great things can be achieved. Therefore, the need for systems that are based on compassion should not limited to Rwanda; in order to create a better future for global health, it is crucial for the world-leaders to acknowledge the fact that a problem will be expensive or hard to solve is not a good enough reason to postpone it for when there will be more resources or more time. We cannot allow ourselves to wait for the “better day” in order to deal what are commonly seen as big and difficult problems; after all, we can not confidently make the assumption that everyone will live long enough to see that better day.


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